Mindfulness: Transforming Yourself

Mindfulness: Transforming Yourself

07/11/16 Laura Gibbons

By Elaine M. Schachelmayer, MA, NCC, CCTP, LPC

In today’s go-go-go, 24/7, constantly checking-our smartphones society, it seems we’re rarely alone with our thoughts. While mindfulness is not “new” – it has Buddhist origins dating back 2,500 years or more – it is the realization of today’s continual “busy-ness” that is no doubt helping fuel the growing mindfulness movement. What is mindfulness? As opposed to our minds being too FULL of activity, worries, and concerns, mindfulness is the state of being conscious, aware of, or “mindFUL” of one’s surroundings. Additional definitions of mindfulness include:

• The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings;
• The process of calmly accepting, acknowledging the present moment and the feelings, thoughts, and bodily perceptions and sensations that exist; and
• Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present, according to scientist, writer, and mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.

The purpose of mindfulness is an awareness of being “in the moment” and the directions we give our mind to stay fully present in our experiences.

What Meditation & Mindfulness is NOT
The concepts of “meditation” and “mindfulness” are confusing to some people, and so here is some clarification. Meditation and mindfulness is not:

• Going into a trance or self-hypnosis;
• Attempting to empty your mind;
• Just for spiritual leaders, monks, priests, nuns;
• A technique for relaxation;
• Another form of positive thinking; and
• A reason not to work with mental health or medical professionals (mindfulness can complement traditional Western medicine).

Why Mindfulness is Needed
• Fear and anxiety are worthy of our attention.
• Upsetting feelings are not a punishment or a sign of weakness.
• Opening a door to the unknown makes possible a corridor to curiosity.
• We can pay attention to unpleasant sensations and thoughts and still be okay.
• Changing mental states through attentive mind-body experiences can transform destructive reactions into peaceful insight and acceptance.

Anxiety is Rampant in Today’s 24/7 Society
Chronic anxiety is especially troublesome. It can be identified as:
• A higher intensity that has become alarming;
• There is no real reason or evidence why anxiety should be present;
• It lasts for weeks, and even months at a time … well beyond typical bouts of anxiety;
• Detrimental signs result in painful and damaging living; and
• Frequently masked by withdrawal, alcohol or other drugs, abuse of food, lost work performance, and somatic symptoms.

What Mindfulness Can Do
In today’s busy society, we need to be able to find our bearings, to step back. Mindfulness is a great gift for our own lives and in the workplace. Mindfulness offers a viable tool for EAP practitioners in the treatment of fear, anxiety, addiction, stress, trauma, panic, and other conditions that limit individuals in their function and relationships with themselves and with others.

As professionals in mental wellness, mindfulness provides an encouraging opportunity for self-care. Mindfulness also offers:

• A gateway to transformational living with endless compassion and unconditional acceptance of self;
• A conduit to health and healing; and
• An opportunity for kindness and openheartedness; friendly, “allowing,” non-judging.

Mindfulness is an Important Ally
• Balancing distortions, moving from hyperarousal and chronic stress to calm and relaxed attention – an opportunity to “let go;”
• Reducing fight-or-flight responses, activated stress hormones, immune deficiencies, worsening depression, memory impairment, and possible breakdown of disease-fighting repair;
• Checking chronic stress that becomes a debilitating barrier frequently associated with depression, panic and anxiety disorders, and mood regulation;
• Lessening the dependence on alcohol and drugs that interfere with life (the need for self-medication); and
• Restoring balance, needed especially for combat veterans and others suffering from PTSD, traumatic grief, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and individuals with social anxiety.

Mindfulness Offers the Potential for Healing
• Research cannot explain fully how the practice of mindfulness works, but evidence from Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience shows a marked decline in the amygdala stress response.
• Mindfulness can help individuals better cope with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder
• (PTSD), aggression, social fears, depression, fear-related learning, and many physical, painful, and chronic conditions.
• Using mindfulness together with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), narrative therapy, psychotherapy, and journaling can help “layer” effective mental health treatment.
• Mindfulness can assist the aging elderly population, individuals with brain injury, people who have a history of cognitive disorganization, hospice patients, and professional caregivers coping with compassion fatigue.

Mindfulness Enhances Compassion
Of all the wonderful gifts that mindfulness has to offer, among the greatest is our heart qualities such as loving kindness. Cultivating a heart filled with love for others and self is to embrace all of life. We appreciate life even in the pains of suffering through it. Compassion is seen in our vulnerability as we age and die … as we find our way in life. We learn to love more softly, with greater tenderness, and at our own pace. When we see what mindfulness can do for ourselves, we see what it can do for others. But it does not happen easily, it has to be practiced daily.

Jon Kabatt-Zinn’s 7 Stepping Stones about Mindfulness
1. Non-judging (Not having preconceived notions about others or our surroundings);
2. Patience (This has always been a virtue, but in a “gotta-have-it” now or “have-to-know-it” society, this seems to be especially true today);
3. Beginner’s Mind (This is the idea of looking at things for the first time, not unlike a child);
4. Trust (Confidence, faith, hope, and assurance … as opposed to disbelief, doubt, uncertainty and mistrust);
5. Non-striving (“This is not supposed to be work,” says Kabatt-Zinn. “If you think it is just one more thing to do, don’t do it. Mindfulness involves being, not doing.”
6. Acceptance; and
7. Letting go.

Mind-Body Thinking
• “I am not my thoughts.”
• “I am more than my thoughts.”
• “My thinking does not define me.”
• “Stay in the moment, utilize all five senses.” (What do you see? What do you feel?)

Stop striving and you will start thriving. Remember that everything happens in the present moment.

Elaine M. Schachelmayer, MA, NCC, CCTP, LPC, is a clinical psychotherapist, community advocate, and Herzing University educator.
Source: Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 8, August 2016

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